Health Tech News This Week – July 1, 2023

What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.

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Survey: Employers Aren’t Doing Enough To Support Employees’ Mental Health

A Northeast Business Group on Health survey published Monday found that 26% of employers never identify the needs of employees nor the “awareness and effectiveness” of their mental health programs. About three in ten respondents don’t have messaging campaigns through social media and internal platforms on mental health. Maria Plescia provides the details in her MedCity News article. The Northeast Business Group on Health survey, published Monday, found that 26% of employers never identify the needs of employees nor the “awareness and effectiveness” of their mental health programs. About three in ten respondents don’t have messaging campaigns through social media and internal platforms on mental health.

The survey included responses from 140 large employers in the U.S. It used a tool Northeast Business Group on Health launched in November called Well Gauge. The tool asks participants a series of questions through four sections: communicating a commitment to mental health, engaging leadership at all levels, demonstrating a commitment to mental health, and fostering environments that support total health. Users of the tool also receive recommendations to improve mental wellness support at their organization.

Why it’s important – The survey shows that while employers know that mental health support is vital, more work needs to be done. Based on these findings, employers need to help reduce the stigma around mental health and show that the company cares. Additionally, leaders need to ‘walk the talk’ and demonstrate they are engaged in supporting their employees and their own mental health to help normalize conversations around mental health.

Infographics of the week – KFF Survey Shows Complexity, Red Tape, Denials, Confusion Rivals Affordability as a Problem for Insured Consumers, With Some Saying It Caused Them to Go Without or Delay Care – Most (58%) people with health insurance say they encountered at least one problem using their coverage in the past year, with even larger shares of people with the most significant health care needs reporting such problems, finds a new KFF survey of consumer experiences with health insurance.

Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation

This week’s second infographic comes from healthcare IT guru Herman Oosterwijk in his SIIM23 report for DICOM Systems. He’s adapted the Gartner Hype Cycle curve to give his opinion on where certain technologies fall today

Image Credit: Herman Oosterwijk

What if the ambulance doesn’t come? Rural America faces a broken emergency medical system

Nada Hassanein, a national correspondent at USA TODAY, reports that as rural hospitals shutter across the nation, dwindling emergency medical services also must travel far to the nearest hospital or trauma center. Experts and those in the field say EMS needs a more systematic funding model to support rural and poorer urban communities. Few states designate EMS as essential services. In the U.S., local governments mainly fund EMS, and not all states allocate supplemental funds toward the services.

“The EMS profession needs a home. EMS kind of sits on two sides. … So, when you don’t have a home, sometimes you just get left behind. On a federal level, I’d like to see some initiative to maybe get us a little bit more rooted into that health care system.”

PJ Ringdahl, regional adviser, North Dakota EMS Association

Why it’s important – Nearly 4.5 million people across the U.S. live in an “ambulance desert” – 25 minutes or more from an ambulance station – and more than half of those are residents of rural counties, according to a new national study by the Maine Rural Health Research Center and the Rural Health Research Centers. As rural hospitals shutter across the nation, dwindling emergency medical services also must travel far to the nearest hospital or trauma center.

Podcasts of the week – This week’s recommendation is Device Weekly’s episode featuring Mike Favet, CEO of NeuroPace, who talks about how the company’s RNS technology is helping to transform the lives of patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. NeuroPace, one of the pioneers in neurostimulation, has the only FDA-approved neurostim treatment for epilepsy. Favet took over as CEO four years ago from the founding CEO, so we discuss his background, the changes he made at the company, and how NeuroPace is building a market for a medical device to treat a disease that typically can be managed only by pharmaceuticals. You can listen to the episode here.

Image Credit: Device Talks Weekly Podcast Series

My second Podcast recommendation this week is a special program on the ‘NMP’ Problem in Medicine. NMP stands for ‘not my patient, not my problem,” an infection in medicine so broad and so deep that even the best of the best develop blind spots (implicit or confirmation bias) while we, the patient, often pay a very steep price. In this case, Greg Masters’ son Anthony John Masters may be its latest victim. Host Gil Bashe interviews his colleague and executive producer of Health UnaBASHEd on the untimely and avoidable death of his 38-year-old son Anthony John Masters.

The iPad was meant to revolutionize accessibility. What happened?

For people who can’t speak, there has been depressingly little technological innovation that helps them communicate. Julie Kim, in MIT Technology Review, reports on her research into augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology for her daughter, who is five years old and also non-speaking. Underwhelmed by the available options—a handful of iPad apps that look (and work) as if they were coded in the 1990s—I’d delved into the speculative, more exciting world of brain-computer interfaces. Because the reality is this: the last significant advance in AAC technology happened 13 years ago, an eternity in technology time. On April 3, 2010, Steve Jobs debuted the iPad. What for most people was a more convenient form factor was something far more consequential for non-speakers: a life-­changing revolution in access to an attractive, portable, and powerful communication device for just a few hundred dollars. Like smartphones, iPads had built-in touch screens, but with the critical advantage of more space to display dozens of icon-based buttons on a single screen. And for the first time, AAC users could use the same device they used for speaking to do other things, like text, FaceTime, browse the web, watch movies, record audio, and share photos.

Why it’s important – A piece of hardware, however impressively designed and engineered, is only as valuable as what a person can do with it. After the iPad’s release, the flood of new, easy-to-use AAC apps that LoStracco, Shevchenko, and their clients wanted never came. Today, there are about a half-dozen apps, each retailing for $200 to $300, that rely on 30-year-old conventions asking users to select from menus of crudely drawn icons to produce text and synthesized speech. Beyond the high price point, most AAC apps require customization by a trained specialist to be helpful. This could be the reason access remains a problem.

There aren’t many other options available, though the possibilities do depend on the abilities of the user. Literate non-speakers with complete motor control of their arms, hands, and fingers, for example, can use readily available text-to-speech software on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop or laptop computer. Those whose fine motor control is limited can also use these applications with the assistance of an eye-controlled laser pointer, a physical pointer attached to their head, or another person to help them operate a touch screen, mouse, or keyboard. The options dwindle for pre-literate and cognitively impaired users who communicate with picture-based vocabularies.

YouTube video of the week – From this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, from revolutionary advancements aiding paralysis patients to the therapeutic treatment of PTSD, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) possess the boundless potential for merging human biology with cutting-edge technology in unprecedented ways. Three visionaries in this field demonstrate what’s possible now and offer insights into the future trajectory of this technology.

YouTube Video Credit: Aspen Ideas Festival

The Best ChatGPT Plugins: How To Add Browsing, Learning, Wolfram And More

Andrea Koncz from The Medical Futurist Institute provides this overview of the new plugin universe. ChatGPT plugins are like additional apps, enhancing the AI’s skills. They can be added from the “plugin store” and offer a wide range of features, from work-related tasks to games and lifestyle assistance. She notes that privacy risks associated with these plugins require careful attention, especially with plugins accessing personal information or accounts.

Why it’s important – Despite the current limitations, these plugins represent a glimpse into the future of AI technology, showcasing possibilities for a more personalized and versatile AI assistant. They are in the early stages of development and make mistakes—lots of them. Remember that they are imperfect, so use their outputs with a good pinch of salt.

‘It’s like Groundhog Day’: The cancer drug shortage isn’t new — and neither are the solutions

Stat’s Angus Chen brings us this important information in his latest article. The current shortage of cancer drugs stems from the shutdown of Intas Pharmaceuticals’ massive plant near Ahmedabad, India. AS STAT previously reported in November of last year, inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration arrived at the plant to discover a garbage truck filled with shredded documents. The generic drug supplier was trying to delete evidence of quality control issues.

“These shortages are really omnipresent. In the modern era, it’s not even the new normal. It’s the normal. From 2011, they have really never gone away. It’s like Groundhog Day.”

Yoram Unguru, Pediatric Hematologist, Children’s Hospital at Sinai, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

The result is that many doctors, particularly those at smaller community clinics and hospitals, haven’t been able to give drug combinations that would have given many patients an excellent chance of a cure for their cancer.

Why it’s important – Providers have to switch to less-than-ideal regimens, which may overall be less effective in the treatment of their disease. Providers have to decide who gets what. We’ve had patients who are not only worried about their diagnosis, which is life-changing, but the emotional toll they get — feeling like maybe I’m not getting the best treatment for my condition. That’s a big deal.

How Can Health System Leaders Collaborate Efficiently When Adopting New Tech?

MedCity News’ Katie Adams reports that Health system executives discussed what these strategic conversations should ideally look like during a virtual panel Thursday, which was co-hosted by Matter and Avia. They stressed it is vital to assemble a diversified decision-making team and that leaders should prioritize addressing the organization’s challenges and opportunities rather than being captivated by flashy new products.

“It just brings a lot more credibility to the project when you have some sort of a clinical champion.”

Taylor Hamilton, Chief Consumer Officer, Ballad Health.

Why it’s important – When a health system considers rolling out a digital initiative or adopting a new technology, its C-suite leaders usually become involved in a circuitous decision-making process involving many stakeholders. For example, when drawing up implementation plans for a new digital tool, health systems often discover that their organization has a lot of unnecessary variation. In a situation like this, leaders should work to standardize the data points in their respective departments instead of ignoring the problem or hoping someone else can fix it. This type of responsibility and cooperation helps digital projects progress faster and more smoothly.

Healthcare costs to jump 7% in 2024: PwC

Healthcare costs will increase by a projected 7 percent in 2024 as the healthcare industry continues to face high inflation, rising wages, and other costs, which are compounded by workforce shortages, according to a report from the PwC Health Research Institute. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The 7 percent spike is higher than the projected medical cost trend in 2022 (5.5 percent) and 2023 (6 percent).
  • Key drivers of the cost growth include new gene therapies — which can cost millions of dollars — and the weight loss drug space, as well as increased consolidation among hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
  • Hospitals and physicians are expected to seek higher rate increases in contract negotiations. Workforce shortages and physician consolidation can further amplify the inflationary effects on providers, with burnout and rising patient demand expected to keep the pressure on clinical workforces across the U.S.
  • Payers are negotiating pricing with hospitals while provider profit margins continue to erode, according to the report. Health plans also feel the squeeze of higher median prices for new drugs and increasing prices on existing drugs.
  • Some positive changes in the pharmaceutical market and care setting — including biosimilars coming to market and care shifting to outpatient settings — are expected.
  • Many health plans continue to invest in the total cost of care management initiatives, such as value-based care, that helped maintain year-over-year trends, according to the report. National health plans generally demonstrated better cost management and subsequently achieved lower cost trends. As these national plans grow, they are projected to have a deflator effect overall on medical cost trends.

These are the areas that PwC will be following over the next year to track and forecast medical cost trend.

Image Credit: PwC Health Research Institute

Why it’s important – The medical cost trend, or growth rate, is primarily influenced by changes in the price of medical products and services and prescription medications, known as unit cost inflation, and changes in the number or intensity of services used or changes in per capita utilization. We’re in an emerging age of omnichannel health care where many patients feel and act more empowered to shop for medical appointments (say, via ZocDoc), leverage digital front doors via telehealth or encrypted messages on patient portals with providers, and take advantage of tele-mental health therapy with counselors who were not so available pre-pandemic. While the cost of treating patients is rising, I do not doubt that the patient-as-payor will determine much of that spending. Click here to read the full report.

Have a wonderful Independence Day holiday!

“The happiness of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind; she is destined to become the safe and venerable asylum of virtue, of honesty, of tolerance, and quality and of peaceful liberty.”

Marquis de Lafayette
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